Monday, March 31, 2014

Yummy Deliciousness Granola Recipe

I LOVE granola.  I remember the first time I ever had granola was at Summer camp.  Basically, my life was changed from that moment on.

Unfortunately, the price of a tiny bag of granola in the store is absolutely crazy!!  Especially when it is SO cheap to make.  Here's how I make it.

Yummy Deliciousness Granola
7 cups of rolled oats
1 1/2 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup of flax
3 individual servings of applesauce - I used unsweetened Motts Cherry Starfruit Berry applesauce
3/4 cup of honey
1 cup raisins

In a bowl, mix up the dry ingredients, except the raisins.  In a separate bowl, mix up the wet ingredients.  Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients.  Mix them up really well, you want all the dry ingredients to be coated by the wet ones.

This is the applesauce I use.

Pour the mix onto three separate cookie sheets.  Put them in the oven at 275 degrees for 30-40 minutes.  Stir it around with a spatula every ten minutes or so. Watch it carefully! Granola burns quickly and there is nothing more disappointing then having to throw out a fresh batch of granola!

Let it cool.  Mix in the raisins and put it in a jar. Feel happy knowing you have breakfast covered for the morning!

We mixed this granola with some homemade yogurt and bananas the other day.  So good!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How to be a Smart yard sale Shopper

My husband and I LOVE yard sales.  To the point where we get giddy when Spring comes because we are dreaming of all the browsing of people's junk we soon get to take part in.  Here are some tips to make the most of your yard sale trips:

1. It's not a deal if you don't NEED it.  Just because it is cheap doesn't mean you should buy it.  If you buy a cd you will never listen to, or book you will read just because it was a steal, in the end you just wasted money if you will never use it!

2.  Haggle.  I am not really good at this one, but have done it once in awhile.  Most people who are holding yard sales just want to get rid of their junk.  If you are offering a reasonable amount, but lower than the price they are asking, most people will give you some sort of deal.

3.  Try it out.  If the item you are buying requires electricity, ask if there is a way you can plug it in before you buy it to make sure it works.

4.  Limit what you buy for your kids.  It's easy to hand over some cash to the kids for a purchase at a yard sale, and I encourage it!  It's cheap, and it can teach them how to figure out how much they can afford, etc.  But if you hit up a lot of yard sales like my husband and I, it's good to say no as well.  No child needs a bedroom full of stuffies, no matter HOW cheap they are. ;)  A few are adequate enough.

5.  Go Early.  Serious yard salers are out first thing in the morning to get the best stuff.

6.  Go Late.  So, if you go early you have a better chance of finding items you might be looking for but if you go late, you may score some awesome deals as the yard sale organizers are getting tired, ready to shut'er down, and most likely just going to take the rest of the stuff leftover to the thrift store.

7.  Bring Snacks.  You need to keep yourself nice and hydrated and full of energy while out.  And we all know the kids will get hungry.  Avoid wasting all the money you saved by eating out in a moment of hangry weakness.

What are your tips for successful yard saling?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Save Money on Your Grocery Bill

My family and I, we like to eat.  And though I haven't made the best food choices over the past few months, I do like to be able to eat healthily even though I am on a tight budget.  Here are some of my top things I do to save on my groceries.

1.  Beans can be yummy!  You don't need to be a vegetarian to enjoy beans.  Mix some black beans with salsa and rice, top with some cheese, and enjoy!
2.  Buy dried beans over canned. I sometimes buy canned beans, but usually buy dry beans.  I cook the whole bag in my crockpot at once, then put them in freezer bags in smaller servings.  Then when I need some, I just grab a bag from the freezer!
3.  Make meat the addition, not the main course.  Add meat to soups and stews, stir fries and casseroles to make it go further.
4. Make your own convenience foods.  I've made my own jam, taco seasoning, granola, yogurt, pancakes and so much more!
5. Grow a garden.  Nothing tastes better than a fresh tomato from the garden!
6.  Cut out the cereal.  My family LOVES cereal.  But it is expensive.  To appease them, I will buy one box of cereal on sale.  Once it is gone, we eat oatmeal, eggs, or pancakes until we grocery shop.
7.  Buy discounted meat.  Okay, before you get all grossed out, hear me out on this one.  Meat is usually discounted because it is going to expire in a day or so.  Once you put the meat in the freezer, it will keep for a long time.  As long as you either cook it the day you purchase it or put it in the freezer it is fine.  Obviously, don't buy anything that looks questionable.
8. Menu plan.  How many times have you stopped at the grocery store on the way home, or the drive-thru because you had no plan for dinner?  Having a plan will avoid these unexpected trips.
9.  Shop the flyers.  Plan your menu around what is on sale that week.  And don't forget to price match!
10. Don't shop while hungry.  Oh man, everything looks so delicious when you are hungry!  You will end up spending more than you planned.  Eat before you shop.

How do you save money on your grocery bill?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What I've Learned from People like Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus

We all remember Justin Bieber and  Miley Cyrus as young teens.  Fresh and fun, good role models for our kids.  Both professed to be followers of Jesus.  In fact,it was Justin Bieber who was found singing worship songs on youtube.

but money and fame have a funny way of changing people.

And haven't we all, at one time or another wished for that fame? for that fortune? Oh, how life would be easier if we lived like Hollywood stars.  If we had money like that, we'd be set!

And we watch, and see Justin and Miley fall down.  Over, and over, and over again.  We wonder how they have gone from the squeaky clean role models we remember, to the barely dressed and law breaking stars they are right now.  And we smugly say we wouldn't be like that.  Oh no, if we had their money, we'd be wise.  We'd give much of it away as Jesus would want us to, and we'd make wise choices with the rest of it.  But we'd live comfortably, without worrying how we are going to pay the bills for once.

Well, I don't know about you, but if I am downright honest with myself, I think there is a good chance I'd be just as foolish.  I am pretty sure I'd stumble, just as they are....maybe worse. Because money and fame can do that to a person.  Not always...there are people who wisely use it to God's glory, to bless others, to help others...but many, many out there don't.

And it's not that they are bad people.  I don't believe Justin or Miley are horrible people.  I believe they are human, sinful people who are distracted by the glimmer of it all.

And I believe I would be too.

I think there is a good chance I could be a very greedy rich person.

Miley and Justin, watching them, from where they came from, to where they are now....they teach me that money doesn't solve all problems, and in the end can cause more.  They have shown me that you may be able to finally pay your bills, but now you can have a whole other slew of problems.  Not to mention that there are times we can read about famous people in Hollywood, who had a life full of promise, and MONEY, only to find themselves homeless or struggling to make ends meet because somehow after a host of poor choices, they find themselves in a very dark place.  And they say money doesn't buy happiness.   We secretly think it buys a little bit of happiness at least.  But if that was true I think we'd see fewer celebrities succumb to suicide, or drug and alcohol addictions.  It looks to me like all the money in the world doesn't take away the pain in your heart.

You know, lack of money is not the only area you can be poor in. You can be RICH in the financial sense, but poor in many other areas of your life.  We ALL are poor in some areas.  Sometimes I wonder if in the Bible when God commands us to help the poor, He isn't only talking about it in money terms. What about the spiritually poor? The emotionally poor?  Add that to the financially poor and everywhere you turn there are people who need Jesus' love.

And all of a sudden, lack of money doesn't seem so bad after all. Actually, as crazy as it sounds, many days I am thankful for it.  Many days I am thankful that living low income is okay with me as long as I get to spend more time with my family.  Many days I am happy that my husband and I can be risk takers without fear of losing a 3000 sq foot home or fancy cars (can't lose what you don't have!).  I have had moments where I am thankful we have learned how to be frugal, how to stretch the groceries, or how to choose cheaper activities to take part in because if ever we are in crisis, we may just be a little more prepared for it.  And though there are times that can be tough...that there are times that have brought us to our knees wondering if we got it all wrong, as was the case as early as a few months ago, those moments often pass, we learn a different way of working within our circumstances, and we see and feel God guiding us into focusing on HIM more, and less on the almighty dollar.  And we always seem to come out of those times stronger, and with a clearer understanding of what our lives should reflect.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

20 Cheap or free Spring Activities

Spring is coming!  Although, if you live in Canada, like me, you may be doubting Spring will ever come this year.  You know, I used to pride myself on being a northern girl, but seriously, I can't take this cold anymore!  Not gonna lie, I wanna punch winter in the face. one.  Does it even really exist?

Anyways, I am living on the dream that Spring WILL come.  And soon.  And after being inside for so long with the kids due to crazy cold such as the polar vortex this year, I am READY to get out.  So, what is family to do outdoors on the cheap?

1.  Go to the park.  This one NEVER gets old with kids.
2.  Have a picnic.
3.  Go hiking in a conservation area.
4.  Read a book to the kids outside on a blanket.  Or hide in a tree and read a book all by yourself. 
5.  Paint.  Yes, kids can paint indoors, but trust me, your stress level will stay relatively low if you save the painting activities for outdoors.  No more paint on your table, on your floor, etc.  It will still be on your kids, but hey, it's better than nothing.  Let the kids paint rocks for a new type of canvas.
6.  Fly kites.
7.  Ride bikes.
8.  Go on a scavenger hunt.
9.  Take a trip to the farmer's market.
10. Blow bubbles.
11. Go puddle jumping.  Seriously, put all your "that will be one big mess" thoughts aside and do this at least once.  Your kids will LOVE you for it.
12.  Make bird feeders.
13. Make a fairy house. Use or sticks or anything you can find.
14.  Play with sensory bins.  We do the sensory bins indoors in the winter and usually end up with pounds of lentils or dried beans on the floor.  Think of how less of a mess this would be outdoors!
15.  Collect rocks.  Bring them home and attach googly eyes to them.
16.  Climb a tree.  For the big kids of course, and maybe the parents too!
17.  Feed the ducks.
18.  Have a bonfire.  Roast marshmallows and bring your guitar to sing songs.
19.  Yarnbomb a tree in your yard.
20.  Draw with chalk.  Do some serious artwork on your front step.


Spring,  I can almost taste it!!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Running Errands on the Cheap

I live in a small town 25 minutes outside of a main city.  All my main shopping is done there because as crazy as it sounds, I don't want to pay three times as much for the same groceries.  We do most of our stuff in the local city like go to church, swimming lessons, etc.  Maybe if you are like me you have some experience with a trip into the city ending up costing way more than you hoped because of those little people in your car complaining they were hungry or you ended up driving from one end of the city to the next 5 times because you weren't organized.  Here are some tips I have learned to minimize my expenses when going out.

1.  Avoid meal times.  This isn't always possible, but when you can avoid it, run your errands when it isn't meal time.  That way you avoid you and your kids getting HANGRY!  You know, hangry...when you are hungry, and then you get angry?  We are a family of hangry people, I swear it is in our genes.  Sometimes when the husband or I are being short with eachother the other one looks at the other and replies, "honey, do you need a sandwich?"  Speaking of which, a sandwich sounds really good right now...

2. Pack food.  If there is a chance you are going to be out for awhile, or around meal time, pack a lunch or snacks.  Truth is, if you have kids with you the chances of someone getting hungry if you are out of the house more than 20 minutes is pretty high.  Might as well pack some food for most trips just in case.  My kids have water bottles as well that they take with them quite often.

3.  Have a back-up plan.  Sometimes no matter how hard you try to be organized, life happens and you find yourself in town without food and hangry people. Have a back up plan for where you will buy food if this happens to avoid spending more than you want.  For us, we either go to the grocery store for snacks or get a 5 dollar pizza at one of the local pizza places.  Even if we buy 2 pizzas because we are REALLY hangry, it is still cheaper than buying dinner for our whole family through the Mcdonald's or Wendy's drive-thru.  (and don't judge on the drive-thru...if you have three kids in car/booster seats and you are on your own you know how difficult it can be to take your kids in and out of the minivan over and over again on an errand trip.)

4.  Plan your route strategically.  Write out what you need before you go and what stores you need to go to.  Then plan your route according to location.  This will help avoid you spending more gas than you had hoped because you are driving all over the city.

5.  Go by yourself.  I LOVE grocery shopping by myself.   If you can have someone else watch your kids while you run errands this can make the trip faster and less chance of spending more money in so many ways.

What do you do to avoid spending money when you are out?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Home Decor on a Budget

If I am being honest, I would say that home decor is not my strong point.  Actually, I'm not that great at it at all.  But I personally think any of my decorating fails in my home are not due to finances and more to do with my lack of creativity in that department.  However, I have made an effort to do a few things around my home.

We have furnished our home mostly by second-hand items either given to us or purchased.  Our only full-price item in our home is an Ikea chair.  (We were childless at that time and hey, it IS Ikea.)  At the time the chair came with a white cushion.  I hated the white cushion, but the coloured ones were more expensive.  So we took the white one.  Over 5 years later we finally were able to replace the white cushion for a black cushion! :)

Here are some things I have learned in an effort to save money on decorating your home.

1. Put the word out before you purchase it.  I really wanted to repaint my kitchen cupboards red.  I mentioned it on Facebook, and a Facebook friend had red paint they offered me.  Other times I have put the word out asking if someone had something I was looking for and at least half the time someone had something they weren't using.  It is always good to offer to buy it off of them (for a cheaper price than the store of course) but in my experience, most people are happy to give it to you if they aren't using it and know you.

2.  Paint freshens anything.  My house is 100 or so years old.  My kitchen cupboards are OLD.  New cupboards would be a dream, but not an affordable dream of mine!  So, whenever I am needing a change, I paint them.  It is amazing how much paint can freshen a room!

3. Let Pinterest inspire you.  Now this one you need to be careful with.  When I say let Pinterest inspire you, I am not talking about the Pins that scream "Absolutely PERFECT decor for $10,000".  I'm talking more about inspiration such as this:

This is a wall decoration I made after seeing a picture of this on Pinterest (only spray painted gold).  All it is is clothespins, embroidery hoops (which I purchased at a thrift store) and spray paint.

4. Use nature to decorate.  I don't do this enough, but anytime I do, I feel a sense of closeness with the outdoors.  We pick flowers from our yard in the summer and put them on the table in a vase, or pine cones in the Fall.  My kids take part in this too-I constantly find rocks or ladybugs all over the house...

5. Decorate simply.  Jars filled with coloured beads or dry beans, old crates to hold books or toys, or fabric for bunting flags or to add layering.  If you start looking around your house, you will be amazed at how many things around your house can be used for decorating.

Again, I am by no means a decorating guru.  Until last year I didn't even know what wainscotting was, and I don't understand why there are so many different shades of white paint to choose from, and I have ugly stick vinyl tiles covering my kitchen floor, some of which are tearing apart.  But I do like to add my own personal touch to my home, even if small.  Who knows, maybe when the kids grow up and I have more time on my hands I will find more time to learn the art of a well-decorated home. ;)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Oh NO! Company is Coming for Dinner!

Anytime we have people over for dinner it is always an enjoyable time.  But leading up to it can be quite stressful.  Usually because I am always trying to rack my brain as to what to prepare that is frugal, and doesn't leave me in the kitchen all night. If I was smart, I`d write a list and tape it inside one of my cupboards.  But since I haven`t done that yet (Mommy brain, I blame MOMMY BRAIN!), I might as well write my list here. So, what should you serve for dinner for your guests without breaking your budget?

1.  Soups.  In the cooler months this is one of my favorites.  Pairing up a pureed squash or potato soup with a loaf of homemade bread and maybe a side salad and you've got a full meal!

2.  Chili.  Along the same lines of soup, pair it with some homemade bread.  Have some shredded cheese available for your guests to sprinkle on top and you've got a hearty, filling dinner.

3.  Quiche.  Eggs are cheap, and full of protein.  Raid your garden for what to put in the quiche.

4.  Salad.  Adding some chicken to a salad can turn a side salad into a full meal, perfect for those hot summer nights.  If you have a garden use what is there to make this meal even cheaper.  Serve with some delicious bread.  Cornbread can be a good option.

5. Hamburgers and hot dogs.  Some would feel uneasy serving hotdogs to guests, but in my neck of the woods, during bbq season that is completely acceptable!

6.  Pasta.  Who doesn't like pasta?  And pasta doesn't have to be boring.  Serving some bowtie pasta mixed with peas and sundried tomatoes, a little olive oil, garlic, and parmesan cheese and you might feel like you are dining out at an italian restaurant.

Some tips to remember when company is coming for dinner:

If they ask if they can bring something, say YES!  A side salad, dessert, or beverage can be very helpful in sharing costs.  And if you are invited out, it is nice to offer the same.

Dessert isn`t always necessary.  When we have guests over I try to have a frugal dessert prepared (or ask them to bring one if they asked what they could bring) but there are times it hasn`t happened.  No one is going to waste away without dessert.  Actually, we might be better off not stuffing ourselves with that huge helping of double fudge brownie.

Cook simple meals.  In the cooler months I love to use my crockpot when I entertain.  That way, by the time my guests arrive there is very little for me to do but dish out the food into bowls.  This allows me to actually enjoy the visit!

Entertaining doesn`t have to cost a fortune.  The truth is, people generally aren`t coming to your house for your food.  They are coming for your company, but the food is just a perk.  And if they ARE coming just for your food, maybe they aren`t the type of people you want to have over anyways. ;)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

5 Convenience Foods you can Make Yourself

I am all about convenience. I have three kids, six and under.  They require attention.  All. The. Time. They are like little energy suckers. Cute energy suckers, mind you, but energy suckers nonetheless.  So if there are ways I can make meal time faster in the kitchen, I want to do it.  But convenience foods that you purchase in the grocery store aren't always budget friendly. Not to mention the homemade versions are usually much healthier.  Here are 5 convenience foods that you can make for yourself at home.

1.  Pancake Mix. Seriously, when you buy a mix in the store you are probably adding eggs and milk to the mix. If you make the mix at home, you are only adding a bit of sugar, salt, and baking powder to that.  Three extra ingredients.  Really not all that time consuming.  And you can always make a huge batch of this to store in your pantry.  Just take your favorite pancake mix, double, triple, quadruple the recipe of just the dry ingredients and store it in an airtight container.

2.  Taco Seasoning.  Have you ever looked at the ingredients of storebought taco seasoning?  A lot of salt, and other ingredients you probably can't even pronounce.  I love that I have a jar of taco seasoning in my pantry at all times for whenever I am in a mexican-type dinner mood.

3.  Yogurt. The yogurt aisle is where I find myself the most frustrated in the grocery store.  It seems like almost every brand contains some type of alternative sweetener -sucralose, asparatame, etc.  I'm all for cutting back on sugar, but I'd rather have good ole' refined sugar any day over all those weird, bad-tasting,we-don't-know-what-it's-doing-to-us sweeteners.  By making yogurt at home you can avoid this. Though yogurt takes hours to make, most of it is just incubating time.  The initial work is pretty simple.  And you don't need any fancy yogurt maker.  I actually got rid of my yogurt maker awhile back because I prefer to use a small cooler and some mason jars.  For a tutorial on how to make your own, check out The Frugal Girl's blog.

4.  Breakfast wraps.  Hmm, breakfast wraps.  Okay, truth be told I'm not a huge fan, but my husband loves them!  You don't have to shell out some cash in the drivethru when the craving hits.  Just fill some tortilla wraps with some scrambled eggs, sausage, salsa, and basically whatever you want, wrap them up, freeze them flat on a cookie sheet so they don't stick, and put them in a big freezer bag when they are frozen.  Just take one out and pop it in the microwave when you want one!

5.  Granola.  I LOVE granola.  But everytime I see it in the store I am floored at how they charge so much for a little bag.  Especially since it is mostly just OATMEAL!!!  I get my oatmeal in bulk, either at the grocery store or a local amish store, and it is cheap.  Making my own granola is easy, and a fraction of the cost.  Granola recipes are everywhere online, but one that I like to use can be found here.

Making your own rather than buying can save you money and be healthier for you.  And many times it isn't as difficult as it seems, it just takes a bit of practice getting into the groove of things!